Leaders of multiple African countries announced Feb. 1 that they have backed a "strategy of collective withdrawal" from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Prior to this week's African Union (AU) summit, the AU issued a document seen by Reuters that proposed a coordinated withdrawal unless the ICC is reformed. The AU claims that the ICC is improperly focusing on prosecuting individuals from African countries, and its exit could be significant, as almost a third of the ICC's member countries are African. The AU and the ICC have had a tumultuous relationship over the course of the past year. In July an AU advisory board accused the ICC of narrowly focusing its investigations on African government leaders since its inception in 2002. The AU's Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) recommended that members quit the ICC should Rome Statute signatories follow through with a proposed amendment allowing the prosecution and arrest of sitting heads of state. Human Rights Watch stated that giving sitting leaders immunity would defeat the purpose of the ICC's creation.
A federal judge in Brooklyn issued an emergency stay Jan. 28, temporarily halting the removal of individuals detained after President Trump issued an executive order the previous day that bars entry into the US of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. The stay came as scores of refugees, immigrants and others were stranded at airports across the country. While the ruling blocked the deportation of some arrivals ensnared by the executive order, it stopped short of allowing them into the country, and did not actually weigh in on the constitutionality of the president's order. Large crowds of protesters turned out at several airports, including New York's JFK, to protest Trump's order.
Amnesty International claims "horrific evidence" of repeated chemical weapons attacks carried out by Sudanese government forces against civilians, including young children. Using satellite imagery, more than 200 telephone interviews with survivors, and analysis of dozens of "appalling images showing babies and young children with terrible injuries," Amnesty's new report, "Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air," indicates that at least 30 likely chemical attacks have taken place in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January. The most recent was Sept. 9 Amnesty estimates that between 200 and 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to chemical weapons agents, with many or most being children.
The International Criminal Court released a policy document Sept. 15 calling for prosecution of individuals for atrocities committed by destroying the environment. The document, prepared by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, sets out the types of cases that the court will now prioritize, including willful environmental destruction, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and "land grabbing." The ICC has already shown a willingness to apply its authority to situations involving environmental destruction. Between 2009 and 2010, then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo successfully obtained arrest warrants from the court against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other acts, these alleged crimes involved the contamination of wells and destruction village pumps in Darfur to deprive targeted populations of water. Al-Bashir's trial has not yet commenced as he continues to evade arrest. (The Conversation, Sept. 23)
Electoral authorities in Sudan say the results are in from the April 11-13 referendum on the administrative boundaries of strife-torn Darfur, with 97% voting to maintain its current five-state status. But the vote was boycotted by the civil and armed opposition alike in Darfur. Students at El-Fasher University in North Darfur protested the vote, and similar rallies were held in at least three IDP camps in Central Darfur. The US State Department issued a statement saying the referendum was unlikely to be fair, asserting that "insecurity in Darfur and inadequate registration of Darfuris residing in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps prohibit sufficient participation." The statement drew diplomatic protests from Sudan's regime, which supported maintaining the five-state status quo and posed the referendum as fulfilling terms of the 2011 Darfur peace agreement signed with some rebel groups, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. But rebel factions that did not sign on remain in arms, and even as the vote was prepared violence has again escalated in Darfur.
Intensified fighting since January has resulted in a rapidly worsening security situation and large-scale displacement in Sudan’s Darfur region, the top United Nations peacekeeping official warned April 6. UN Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous said that since his last briefing to the Security Council on Jan. 25, the security situation in Darfur has been characterized by fighting between government forces and militants of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW) in the Jebel Marra region. "The escalation of fighting in Jebel Marra had led to large-scale displacement, especially from mid-January to late March, and humanitarian organizations estimated that at least 138,000 people from that region were newly displaced as of 31 March," Ladsous stated. (UN News Centre, April 6)
The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Aristide Nononsi, on Feb. 5 called for an end to conflict in Darfur between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid which may have led to violations of international law. Tens of thousands of civilians have reportedly fled the Jebel Marra area in the past two weeks, with 21,338 fleeing to North Darfur state and 15,000 fleeing to Central Darfur state. (The Jebel Marra straddles the states of North, South and Central Darfur.) Nononsi also stated there have been an unspecified number of civilian casualties and destruction of property. The UN is urging that all parties protect unarmed civilians and respect international law and human rights. Nononsi also urged Sudan to provide access to UN-African Union Mission (UNAMID) in Darfur to areas affected by conflict.
A South African deputy minister said Oct. 10 that the nation will leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), opining that the court has "lost its direction." Following criticism for ignoring an ICC directive to arrest the president of Sudan, Obed Bapela of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) told reporters that South Africa will continue to uphold "the flag of human rights" independent of the ICC. Bapela indicated that powerful ICC member nations "trample" human rights and pursue "selfish interests," and some African leaders have questioned the ICC's indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as being another in a long line of decisions biased against Africans.